I found Luz standing over Claudia’s body, watching her bleed out onto the shabby carpet from the wound in her head. When I entered the hovel, she looked up at me and I stopped dead in my tracks. There wasn’t a hint of grief in her expression, not a bit of sorrow in her eyes, and for a second, I actually thought that Luz seemed happy that her mother was dead.
I shoved that morbid thought out of my head. She was in shock now. The grief would come later, once she’d realized that Claudia was really, truly gone.
“Where’s Liliana?” I asked.
“Bedroom,” Luz replied. Her eyes dropped back to Claudia. She brushed her mother’s hair out of the old woman’s lifeless eyes. “Are they dead?” She asked.
I knew who she meant. “Yes.”
“Good.” Luz spent another minute smoothing her mother’s hair, then stopped abruptly and headed for the back room. “I’ll get Liliana.” She stopped and looked back at me. “We are leaving, right?”
I nodded, still stunned by her reserved behavior. “We should have already been gone. Some of your neighbors were being curious, but I took care of them. It...won’t last long though.”
Luz didn’t ask what I’d done to quell the building curiosity and that worked for me. I heard her talking to Liliana in the back while she gathered up a few things to bring with her. I took the liberty of covering Claudia’s body, in particular her head, with a ratty blanket so when Liliana came out she wouldn’t have to deal with that brutal image. It was sure to stay with her forever, as I was sure it would stay with Luz, even though she seemed to be unaffected by it all now.
She and Liliana emerged from the back, with just one duffle bag between them. “I’m ready,” She said. I nodded and pointed towards the door, which Luz walked right out of without taking one glance in the direction of her mother. Liliana did, however. But it wasn’t out of grief. She wasn’t saying goodbye through tearful eyes. She was staring out of curiosity and that was when I knew that something wasn’t quite right about this mother and daughter.
Back in the alley, I stopped to contemplate what to do next. I had a woman and child in my care and I wasn’t used to having to care for anybody. The last person I’d ever had to look out for had been my little sister, Becca. But I had lost her when I’d lost my life. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about her and what had become of her after I’d been killed. Our mother had died right after Becca was born, so I assumed she went into foster care. But that was better than what we’d had. I had done what needed to be done. I had saved her from our father who’d done monstrous things to her. I had killed him, brutally, and would’ve done it again to save Becca. I would’ve done anything for Becca.
“I know where to go,” Luz said, interrupting my nostalgic brooding.
I raised a brow, knowing who she meant even though she’d only given me a first name. In the slum, there was only one Manuela who mattered. “Why Manuela’s?”
“She is mi tía.”
Now that was surprising. “Your aunt is an elder?” Luz nodded. “And she won’t mind us, me, being in her home?”
“She will not like it, but she won’t turn you away.” She looked down at her daughter. “You want to see Tía Manuela, mamita?”
Liliana looked up at her mother. “Will she make me arequipe and crepes?”
“She has never not made you arequipe and crepes.”
“Then, yes, I want to go.”
Luz nodded. “Bryce, is this okay for you?”
I nodded and tried to remember when I’d told Luz my name. “Sí, I just want you guys to be somewhere safe.”
“Nothing will happen to us while you’re here, Bryce,” Liliana said, repositioning her doll in her arms. Luz confirmed this with another nod.
I didn’t know how to respond to Liliana’s comment, so I decided to ignore it. “Stay close to me,” I said, “It’s true, no one will try to hurt me but they might try to hurt you.”
They both agreed and I led the way to Manuela’s, making sure to keep them close, but not too close where there was a chance that Luz might touch me. We passed a few shady characters, who after locking eyes with me, decided harassing Luz and Liliana was not worth the consequence. I kept an eye out for more of Lu Mal’s men, but after a while realized that there wasn’t anyone tailing us nor was he going to send more of his cronies for me to kill.
At least, not right then.
The elder Manuela lived at the end of an alley that was as creepy as it was dark. Not that the slums were well lit, but even the moon refused to shed light on Manuela’s. Considering what the old woman was, I wasn’t surprised.
I let Luz approach the door first, but she didn’t knock, just pushed the door open and walked right in. Liliana followed silently, but it wasn’t until Luz motioned to me that I crossed the threshold and went inside. Before closing the door behind me, I checked out the alley, but didn’t see anyone. But that was not unusual. Not even the ñeros that fed their families by robbing and killing hung out anywhere near Manuela’s unless they had a damn good reason.
Though I knew of Manuela, I’d never seen her or been inside of her house. Even though she was a mistress of black magic, an elder witch, Evil had never made a request for her soul, so I had never had a reason to be in her presence. Her house was typical of a witch’s – dark, gloomy, and cluttered with strange odds and ends that would creep normal people out. But me, I was unaffected, as was Luz and Liliana, who made themselves comfortable on Manuela’s tattered couch. I wondered around picking up things to examine closer and looking at old pictures of people possessed by who knew what. I even flipped through a few books I found on the black arts but didn’t stop to actually read anything.
It was as I was checking out a jar of what looked like blackened chicken feet that I felt a cold, dark presence behind me. I jerked around.
Sitting on the couch next to Luz and Liliana, was an old woman with black eyes and long black hair that she kept swept to one side in a long braid. She wore several layers of clothing even though it was stifling hot in the hovel, but nothing on her feet. She was staring at me, as were Luz and Liliana, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard the old woman enter the room. No one snuck up on me. And it had nothing to do with the fact that before I’d been brought back to “life” by Evil, that no one could see me. I hadn’t felt Manuela’s presence and I couldn’t feel her now. Even though I knew she was a witch and was probably keeping me from sensing her with some kind of spell, I didn’t like it. No one could hide from a Reaper.
“Step into the light, demonio,” Manuela cackled, and beckoned to me with a crooked finger.
I didn’t like being called a demon, but I couldn’t actually deny it. I did as I was told, stepping into the light of a few flickering candles that were all one gust away from leaving the hovel in complete darkness.
As I stepped forward, Manuela held her hand out towards me and I knew she was getting a sense of me, feeling me out. Luz and Liliana just watched her, quiet but definitely not scared.
After a few minutes of this, Manuela’s hand jerked away from me and she gasped.
“What is it, tía?” Luz questioned taking the old woman’s hand and actually seeming concerned.
Manuela’s eyes never left me. “We will all be like you very soon.”
I stared back at her and knew the second my eyes went from green to black. Luz gasped.
Manuela stood and leaned into the light.
“Soon,” She said, “We will all be dead. Just like you.”
Copyright © 2012 by Diantha Jones